People get very excited about their artificial grass and praise it for all of the benefits it has over normal grass. It stops the kids from getting muddy; doesn’t go bare when people are moving over it all the time; doesn’t need cutting and isn’t full of those ‘pesky’ weeds. Although fake grass can be used for some good reasons – to make areas more accessible, for allergies or to create a better surface for sport – many people are not aware of the huge range of adverse environmental effects replacing actual grass with fake grass can cause.
Bugs, bees and biodiversity:
Fake grass blocks access to the soil, or to the ground’s surface, for many insects; with worms trapped under it and insects like burrowing bees trapped above. Unlike natural grass, fake grass doesn’t provide food for any species, and food sources in the soil below it can also be destroyed, as there’s no natural decomposition of the species above. Species are not able to grow within artificial grass either, and therefore there are declines in wildflower species; less pollen and massive declines in insects. This affects species higher up in the food chain (like birds and hedgehogs) as they’re left without a food source too. Additionally, the lack of roots provided by real grass leads to increased soil erosion, which destroys ecosystems for organisms, reduces permeability for water and results in a whole host of other negative impacts.
As stated above, fake grass can result in soil structures collapsing, which makes it harder for water to infiltrate into the ground. This can result in more (and faster) run-off, leading to higher chances of flooding. Although many artificial grasses are now permeable, this does not stop this problem. Additionally, real grass helps to absorb and intercept water, which doesn’t happen with fake grass. Flooding therefore can become more of an issue, especially with this exacerbated as other areas are paved over.
Lovers of fake turf will argue that it saves carbon emissions because you don’t have to mow it or put chemicals on it (not that this pollution is necessary with a natural lawn anyway). However, artificial grass is literally made from fossil fuels – petrochemicals. Producing plastic grass uses huge amounts of fossil fuels, and huge volumes of plastic. Natural grass helps to store (sequester) CO2 in the soil. Artificial grass stops this from happening, and ground preparation for it can even result in more CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
As mentioned above, fake grass requires a lot of plastic to be produced, with most of the plastic used in it being virgin (made new). When it comes to getting rid of a fake lawn, most can’t be recycled – and when they can, they require specialist recycling plants which they’re rarely going to end up in. That’s a whole lot more plastic ending up in landfill or being incinerated. In addition to this problem, microplastics are produced by fake lawns – tiny bits come off them. Microplastics are a massive problem and can enter waterways, the air, animals and our food. Even when companies claim this doesn’t happen, it does, as plastic very slowly degrades, even if you can’t see it. Once the fake lawns are in landfill they keep slowly degrading, potentially contaminating even more land.
No cooling properties:
Finally, plastic grass can become very hot and has been proven to store heat and retain it. This can cause lots of additional problems for organisms below it, as they can slowly suffocate. It’s also pretty rubbish for playing on. In contrast, real grass helps to reduce ambient temperatures, and it is thought it can cool down the ground temperature by up to 24c. The lack of cooling from fake grass can even add to the ‘urban heat island’ effect, leading temperatures to rise further – exacerbating the heating effects of global warming.
In Britain, as in many countries, people have the mindset of having the ‘perfect’ lawn. Artificial grass is loved because of this look. However, it’s clear this love of fake grass is having a wide range of negative consequences. Artificial grass companies will tell you the opposite story to the above (just look at their websites). They’ll tell you fake grass is better for the environment because you don’t need to water it or use chemicals on it. This does not counteract the negative impacts fake grass produces – and to have a healthy lawn you don’t need to water or fertilise it anyway.
The most environmentally friendly and low maintenance way to have a lawn? Let it grow wild; let it grow naturally; let a range of species live in it. Let it be natural. A lawn full of daisies is much prettier and much better for the environment than anything manicured.
The Guardian – Turf it out: is it time to say goodbye to artificial grass? – https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/aug/02/turf-it-out-is-it-time-to-say-goodbye-to-artificial-grass
Biofriendly Planet – Just how eco-friendly is artificial grass? – https://biofriendlyplanet.com/green-ideas/eco-friendly/just-eco-friendly-artificial-grass/
Garden Ninja – Artificial turf; low maintenance dream or environmental disaster? – https://www.gardenninja.co.uk/artificial-turf-low-maintenance-dream-or-environmental-disaster/
Metro – Earth Day: it’s time to rip up fake grass to save birds and bees – https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/22/world-earth-day-time-rip-fake-grass-save-birds-bees-12595457/
Jack Wallington Garden Design – 17 reasons to avoid fake lawns – how bad is artificial grass for the environment? – https://www.jackwallington.com/17-reasons-to-avoid-fake-lawns-how-bad-is-artificial-grass-for-the-environment/
Armson, Stringer and Ennos – The effect of tree shade and grass on surface and globe temperatures in an urban area – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866712000611
Jim – Intense summer heat fluxes in artificial turf harm people and environment – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169204616301992
Hot Innovation – Greening our cities – reducing the ‘urban heat island’ effect – https://www.horticulture.com.au/hort-innovation/news-events/greening-our-cities-reducing-the-urban-heat-island-effect/
National Ocean Service – What are microplastics? – https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html